Batman 1939: Swimming in the Styx
Chapter 23: Dial L for Log
The states of Connecticut and Gotham were separated by the fast Miagani River. The river was a forgettable backwater, winding along acres of sleepy New England farms until it emptied past the rocky coast of the Gotham Bay into the sea. To the outside world, the Miagani had one notable feature: it sat between some of the largest industrial towns in the country, and much of the region’s trade crossed the few bridges which spanned it. The largest was the Dasch Pastorius Bridge, known locally as the DPB. Half of the fabric, fish, and timber entering Gotham State crossed the DPB, and a large portion of manufactured goods reaching New England and the Canadian Maritimes crossed the other way.
Claus Muller was a handyman from Bridgeport. At least he called himself a handyman. Most folks called him a bum. Claus could fix anything from a sewer main to a yacht mast, but employers couldn’t forgive his accent or his habit of being late. He was lucky to find work six months a year, moving from town-to-town to ply his trade.
Claus’ latest job was cleaning rust off the struts of the DPB. He spent his days walking the beams under the bridge as endless traffic passed overhead. He spent his evenings at a poor boarding house on the Connecticut side. It was a lonely life: Claus often went from dawn till dusk without speaking a word to another soul, and only the proprietor knew his name. Or so he thought.
Claus was waiting for the bus one morning, lunch pail in hand, when three grim men in suits stepped out of a car. Before he realized their intentions, two had flanked him and a third was pushing a badge under his nose.
“Claus Muller, we’re with the Federal Bureau of Investigations. You’re under arrest.”
Claus went white. While the other men put him in handcuffs, he sputtered, “Vatt? You haff der vrong mahn.”
The agent picked up Claus’ lunch pail. “Yeah?” He lifted the lid. Inside was a bundle of dynamite. “Tell it to the judge.”
Fort Mudd was the Army’s largest artillery training site. It was mostly desert. Anything that wasn’t desert would soon become desert. The nearest civilian building was Maddie’s Smokehouse, sitting five miles away on a high bluff beside the Fort’s only road. The owner and sole employee at Maddie’s Smokehouse was Miss Madeline Hand. Maddie’s had both the only barbecue and the only female around for miles, and it ran a fine business. It was also perfectly situated to observe traffic traveling the Fort’s lone road.
That morning, Madeline was cleaning glasses in the kitchen when she heard a knock on her restaurant’s front door. She was surprised: the place wouldn’t open for another three hours. Madeline went to the door and opened it a crack.
Outside stood two men in black suits and black cowboy hats.
She lifted an eyebrow. “Can I help you?”
One man flashed a badge. “Federal Bureah of Investigation, ma’am. Would’ju spare a moment?”
Madeline’s eyes went wide and she moved to close the door. Quick as a rattlesnake on a griddle, the two men pulled their sidearms and stuck them through the crack. The man with the badge forced open the door, nearly knocking Madeline to the floor. “Don’t mistake my etiquette for a request, ma’am.”
She scrambled to her feet. “What’da y’all want now?”
“For starters, we believe you to be an unlicensed radio operator.”
The man rapped his fist on a section of wall in the corner, knocking open a hidden door. Behind the door they found a radio broadcast booth and a stack of journals. One journal lay open, and the latest entry read:
Monday. Convoy passed at 3 o’clock. Six howitzers – 155mm. Three unrecognized field guns. Capt. Samuels talking at supper about new drill next week on north range. Must press him for details.
The man looked back at Madeline. “Ma’am, you are most assuredly under arrest.”
“Y’all got a warrant?”
U-1394 was a German Type VIIB U-boat, one of the most fearsome submarines in the world. She carried fourteen torpedoes, could travel eighty nautical miles submerged, and essentially held the very oceans at her mercy. She was currently stuck on a tiny reef. U-1394 had a simple job: ferrying agents and tools of mayhem into the United States. It used isolated beaches along the less-patrolled Gulf Coast to make its insertions. However, the waters of an isolated beach tended to be filled with uncharted obstacles. U-1394 had to surface whenever it approached shore, but its hull still sat deep enough at low tide to catch debris on the seabed. Consequently, her captain usually made every effort to avoid approaching shore at low tide, but today he was ordered to pick up a passenger, which meant he was on a deadline. And now he was caught on a reef.
They were just within sight of land, a forbidding jungle by the looks of it - no sign of habitation in either direction. In two hours, the tide would rise and free their vessel. But if even a fishing trawler spotted them here, they were burnt bratwurst. While most of the crew waited in clenched anticipation, four of the men had rowed a raft to shore to meet their cargo.
The party was led by Oberleutnant Franz Hoff. He helped his sailors push the raft onto dry ground and led them into the trees. U-1394’s orders orchestrated their rendezvous with a time to the minute and coordinates to the quarter kilometer. However, it was a challenge to see ten meters in this steamy wetland. As Oberleutnant Hoff slogged through knee-deep muck, he wished the admiralty had issued him more appropriate boots, though he had to credit them for finding this desolate spot. No one in their right mind would pass through such a hot, fetid marsh.
His party reached a small incline which they realized was natural causeway, hardly wide enough for a cart and still half-flooded, but a path nonetheless. Hoff weighed the merits of speed against stealth, then waved his men onto the path. They continued at a substantially less soggy march.
After a few minutes, they heard shouts and running ahead. The sailors hurried to take positions beside the path, readying their weapons. Oberleutnant Hoff stood alone in the middle, his Luger drawn. He saw an older man running towards them in a panic. The man’s suit was in disarray and drenched with sweat, and his thinning hair was slick on his head.
Oberleutnant Hoff held out his hand. “Halt!”
The stranger stopped long enough to catch his breath. “Die Marine?”
Hoff nodded vigorously. “Ja.”
The man tried to urge him back the way they came. “Los! Schnell!”
Hoff hesitated, but he let the man pass and followed him at a jog. “Bist Sie Heinz?”
The potential Heinz, their passenger, nodded.
Hoff asked, “Wie lautet das passwort?”
Heinz rolled his eyes, as if the conversation was a waste of words. Given his lack of breath, he didn’t have many left. “’Wir mussen den Grunen Pfeil töten’, ja?”
“Gut! Wo ist dein boot?”
Oberleutnant Hoff pointed him down the path. “Dort. Weshalb rennen Sie?”
Hoff looked around in disbelief. “Hier?”
“Ja! Los!” Heinz found his second wind and dashed ahead.
Oberleutnant Hoff exchanged looks with his men then matched pace. They reached the bend in the path near the shore when they heard muffled hooves behind them. The party turned. Seven armed men on horseback trotted down the causeway, the animals kicking mud with every step.
The lead rider called out, “Whacha’ll doin’? Stop ri’ now, hear?”
One of the sailors shouted, “Amerikaner!” and fired his carbine. The round hit one of the horses which whined and reared up, sending its rider into the muck. Oberleutnant Hoff cried, “Nein!”, but it was too late. The riders struggled to control of their mounts and returned fire. The Oberleutnant ordered his men into the trees as splinters of bark rained around him.
The riders dismounted and gave chase. One called out, “We’s the Law! Y’all under arrest!” and fired another two shots ahead. A German sailor was struck in the back and fell, swallowed by the tall grass. But Heinz and the submariners soon disappeared in the thick vegetation. However, in their rush, they lost any sense of direction. They found no hint of the ocean, even after they traveled twice the length of their original trek. The marsh seemed endless, and the heat wore them down until merely walking was torture. Heinz seemed near collapse.
Then Oberleutnant Hoff heard something strange beyond the trees. Something melodic. A quick plucking of strings. Fiddle music. He pushed aside a branch and saw a collection of shanties built over the marsh on poles. They had neither windows nor doors, and the roofs sagged with age. An ancient Model T sat on a small knoll. On the car’s rusty hood was a young woman playing a banjo. The Oberleutnant wasn’t famailar with the style she played, but she was skilled at the instrument. She looked up in mild suprise.
Oberleutnant Hoff smiled. “Excuse! Vhere ist der ozean, bitte?”
The lady responded, but Oberleutnant Hoff to realized she wasn’t speaking to him. “Hey, we gots visitors!”
An older female voice called back from inside the nearest shanty. “Who?”
The young woman with the banjo addressed Hoff, “What’cher name?”
By now Heinz and the other two sailors had entered the clearing. Hoff tried to sound friendly. “Franz.”
She called to the shanty. “Ma, they’s some Yuropeeans.”
The voice in the shanty answered, “Yuropeeans? They best be gone.”
The young woman with the banjo shrugged. “Mama says you best be gone.”
Franz scowled and gestured. His two men raised their weapons. “You vill say vehere ist der ozean!”
The young woman seemed unimpressed. “Ma, they’s got guns.”
The other lady’s voice, agitated now, responded from the shanty, “Yuropeeans wid’ guns? No they ain’t!”
At those words, there was a great commotion across the property. Almost in unison, figures appeared from inside doorways and behind sheds. One sat up from the bed of the car. There were ten of them, and all were armed.
The young woman put down her banjo and shook her head. “We don’ cotton to Frenchies here. ‘Specially who don’ got manners.”
Oberleutnant Hoff slowly raised his hands. “Frenchies?”
His companions followed suit. Heinz was exasperated. “But your state heritage ist Fren-”
Suddenly, a group of men crossed through the another side of the clearing. It was the riders, now on foot but still armed. Their leader pointed at Oberleutnant Hoff. “Hold there!”
Some of the residents turned at the new arrivals. An old lady hobbled out of a shanty and called to them. “And jus’ who’re you?”
Their leader called back. “We’re the Law. Y’all best lower your firearms peacable now.”
The old lady’s eyes went wide. “The Law? Naw, ain’t no guv’ment welcome here.”
The young lady on the Model T cried out, “Don’ fuss, Mama.”
The leader of the lawmen spoke coldly, “Ma’am, I’m gunna count to three.”
The old lady raised a pistol at them from the folds of her dress. “Ain’t reckon you can count that high.”
“You’re under arrest!”
“You’re all under arrest!”
“Vous êtes en état d'arrestation!”
“Please put your pants back on.”
An undisclosed federal building. Gotham City.
Amanda Waller stood at one end of a dark room. At the other end, cast in deep shadow, sat a burly man with the voice of a politican and the eyes of a czar.
Waller said, “Mr. Secretary, thank you coming.”
“Miss Waller, we both know that I would not ordinarily make this trip. But it seems you have surpassed yourself, and I cannot in good conscience decline.”
She nodded. “In the past seventy-two hours, we’ve identified and shut down thirteen German infiltration cells on American soil, and there are nine more stings in progress.”
“Indeed you have. If the confessions prove true, this is surely the finest counterespionage coup in our nation’s history. And now you want to trade your chips in for a big favor.”
“Mr. Secretary, I want this success to serve as proof that I know what I’m doing, so you’ll consent to my next plan of attack.”
“It will be,” she paused, “Aggressive in scope.”
The shadowy man chuckled. “You’ve already got the the moon and the stars. What more could you possibly ask?”
“Let me first explain how we’ve accomplished our string of successes.”
The man gave an indifferent wave. “It’s your show.”
“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.”
Waller turned to a set a blinds on one wall and pulled a cord. The blinds lifted, revealing a two-way mirror which separated them from a bright interrogation room. There was a figure at a table inside.
The shadowy visitor leaned forward and squinted. “Who is that? He’s familiar.”
Waller answered, “He was our greatest threat. Now he’s our greatest weapon. Mr. Secretary, you’re looking at Carmine Falcone.”
Even in the dark, her guest looked horrified. “You kidnapped Carmine Falcone?”
“And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
“You have one chance to explain yourself, woman, or I’ll see you in cuffs so fast you’ll head will spin.”
“That’s all I need, Mr. Secretary.”
“What the devil’s wrong with him? He looks a century old.”
Falcone looked substantially worse than before his capture. His skin was sallow and spotted, and he sat with an obvious hunch. Messy white whiskers had appeared on his chin.
“Poor living. Since he’s been in our care, he’s hardly touched his meals, won’t exercise, and he smokes like a train wreck. Nine packs of cigarettes a day.”
“Nine packs a day?”
“Dawn till dusk. His doctors insist we cut his supply, though I’m reluctant since he’s been so cooperative.”
“Why would he smoke nine packs a day?”
“He says it’s because he wasn’t allowed before.”
“Who would tell Carmine Falcone what to do? His wife?”
“I’ll let the man speak for himself.” Waller pressed a button on a wall phone. “Begin.”
The door opened in the interrogation room, and Lieutenant King Faraday entered. His voice was muffled by the glass. “Hello again, Mr. Falcone.”
Falcone greeted him warmly. “Agent. Here to bring me my smokes?”
“Sorry, Mr. Falcone. None till after dinner. I was hoping we could have another talk.”
Falcone glanced at the two-way glass. “I imagine after what your boys have been up to, we have someone special watching today. I wonder who.”
In the dark room, Waller’s guest squirmed.
Faraday said, “Let’s focus on me and you. I have a few questions that I know you’ve answered many times, but I’d like you to answer again. Can you do that?”
Falcone smiled. “For an audience, I’m happy to oblige.”
Faraday looked tired of this attitude. “Let’s keep this short. Something remarkable happened to you this year. Care to explain?”
“I was mind-controlled by a witch.”
There was silence on both sides of the glass. Faraday asked Falcone to elaborate.
Falcone said, “I don’t know much of her, except that she’s a kraut spy.”
“How do you know this?”
“Simple. When she was in my head, she found ways of contacting her kraut friends, giving them orders. She was a sly one. I was along for the ride, so I saw the whole thing.”
Amanda Waller toggled the wall phone again. “Let’s pause there.” Inside the interrogation room, a small light blinked on the table. Faraday crossed his arms and nodded. Back in the dark room, Waller faced her guest. “Mr. Secretary, I-”
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, girl, but you have some mighty nerve bringing me here to listen to this … hogwash.”
Waller was unperturbed. “Hogwash. Mr. Secretary, may I humbly remind you that under my direction, we’ve removed over a dozen major threats from the game virtually overnight? Do you think that was an accident?”
“That has no relation to-”
“Respectfully, Mr. Secretary, you must understand a difficult fact. The world is much larger and much stranger than you know. I’ll even say it’s larger and stranger than you’ve been allowed to know.”
The man in the shadows was speechless.
Waller continued. “Let me finish this interview, then feel free to cross-examine my claims any way you wish. I promise you, as outlandish as they may seem, they’ll hold up under the most intense scrutiny, and you’ll find no better explanation. If after that you still can’t accept me, then I agree we have no business here.”
“… Do not speak to me in that uppity manner again, Miss Waller.” He nodded at the glass. “Get on with it.”
“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.” Waller pressed the wall phone. “Proceed.”
The light on the table flashed, and Faraday continued. “So Mr. Falcone, you’re saying that a person-”
Falcone interrupted. “A witch.”
“-Fine, a witch, lived in your mind, controlling your actions. And this continued for months.”
“And she went by the codename der Wehrwolf?”
“That’s what her crew all called her.”
“So she used you to give orders to a network of Nazi spies and sympathizers?”
“Occasionally. See, she had to fit her kraut-talk into my leisure time. Little calls. Little letters. Meetings in unobserved locations. This was difficult for her, since I’m often surrounded by company.”
“Then when we took we you off the street, she decided to flee your mind.”
Falcone grinned brutally. It was an expression he never would have worn in his old life. “And then she tried to kill me. Since I had all her secrets, you understand.”
“Yes, she attacked you-”
“And now I’m going to kill her. She wronged me, Agent Faraday, and I’m going to punch her ticket. I’d say it’s a matter of honor. But between you, me, and the glass wall? I just really want to.”
“Let’s stick to the questions, Mr. Falcone. Tell me, why you? Presuming der Wehrwolf could enter any mind she wished, why not take over an important general or J. Edgar Hoover? Why not the President?”
Falcone folded his hands and leaned back in his chair. “An excellent question. Unfortunately, while she could read my mind, I could not read hers.”
“Give me your best guess.”
“Funny you mention the President. I asked her that myself. One of the first things I said to her that wasn’t a vulgarity.”
“The question made her uncomfortable.”
“You said you couldn’t read her mind.”
“True, but I could sense her feelings. Just a little. I compare it to reading someone’s face over a telephone line. A strange sense, but you can sure do it. Oh, and she did have something to say. Yes, she said the Presidency is a ‘noble seat’ and its occupant is ‘warded’. I have no idea what she meant. It sure didn’t save Lincoln. Or Garfield. Or McKinley.”
Faraday winced. “Yes, thank you. But why you?”
Falcone shrugged. “My guess? I’m influential, but as I private citizen, I don’t suffer the same oversight as an elected official or a military man. No one tells me what to do. I enforce my privacy.” He chuckled. “And best of all, I don’t fear anyone. Agent Faraday, I’m not sure you appreciate the incredible courage it took to arrest a guy like me. You deserve a commendation, since I’m sure this witch decided that was never going to happen. Yes, I can see how my life would be useful to a spy.”
“But that’s not all. You and your, uh, business partners were also involved in a spy mission of your own?”
“Yes. Some time before I was controlled, the Navy came to our door and asked that we keep an eye out for fascists in this very city.”
“And did you?”
“Well enough. I have many friends, Agent. I would hear things. Missing train loads from our steel plants. A mugging gone wrong on a Coast Guard commander. Riots we didn’t approve. I love this country, and I love this city, and I don’t want either of them to come to harm.”
“That’s admirable, Mr. Falcone. Do you think this Nazi witch controlled you because she wanted to subvert the work you were doing with the Navy?”
“Absolutely. Without question. But she was clever. She would set up stooges, see? Nobodies. Fall guys. The Navy thought we were so good since we’d deliver a new Nazi every week. Then while they’re grilling the stooge, her real pawns went about their nasty business without a worry. Like a game of three card monte.”
“So the military receives the impression that your counterespionage efforts are widely successful, but the real subversive activities in Gotham continue.”
“She was even more clever than that. She’d call up her friends and tell them to conduct fewer attacks on our merchant ships.”
In the dark room, Waller’s guest barked, “Hold on. What did he just say?”
Waller reluctantly pressed the wall phone. “Stop.” She faced her guest. “Problem?”
“Is that Italian alleging that the decline in attacks on our trans-Atlantic shipping was a deliberate ploy? How does that make any sense? Their entire naval effort revolves around a trade war.” The man was so angry, he was spitting. “How could restricting themselves possibly be a strategic advantage?”
In the interrogation room, Faraday and Falcone heard a mummer through the wall and turned to look. Waller briefly closed her eyes in self-restraint. “Do you think Mr. Falcone could possibly know the fine details of our shipping problem if he wasn’t privy to the information from the other side?”
“Why stop the attacks? To what end?”
“Mr. Falcone has a theory.” She pressed the button again.
In the interrogation room, Faraday gamely asked, “Why do you think der Wehrwolf asked her superiors to conduct fewer attacks on our merchant ships?”
Falcone didn’t answer for a moment. He rubbed his now-considerable beard. “I don’t think she cares about the krauts.”
Faraday acted surprised. “What do you mean?”
“This witch can become whoever she wants. Pretend you were in her pointy shoes. Would you care about politics or flags? She’s no martyr. She’s in it for herself.”
“I’m sure she wants Hitler’s boys to win. That’s her crew. But she’s willing to jeopardize the short-term success of a few teammates to further her own cause. As a spy, she can make herself look good by spying on us, but it’s a bigger win to get rid of rivals on her own side. That makes her indispensable. That’s power.”
“We know there’s lots of jockeying for power in the Nazi high command.”
“You have no idea. Here’s her masterstroke, are you ready? She bakes some lies about the effectiveness of some new star-spangled naval defenses. Scares Hitler’s fleets into taking it easy for a season. That gives me, and by extension, her credibility. Now, there are two teams in the Nazi big leagues in this part of the world: our witch and some bucko down in Spanish-land called Salazar. If she gets rid of Salazar, she wins the pennant. So what does she do? She builds up all this credibility, then whispers to your admiral that Salazar’s the Nazi big boss. Paints a target on his back. Brilliant.”
“I think she hoped Uncle Sam would shine a bright light on Salazar. Spies can’t work in the light. It would tie him in knots. Maybe Berlin would call him home for a spanking. Checkmate.” Falcone snickered, and it turned into open laughter. “But the best part? You go and plug the poor man. Ha! Even the witch didn’t see that coming. It’s a good thing you Feds broke the rules and snatched me away, or she’d have probably taken over the world by now.”
“Where do you think der Wehrwolf is now, Mr. Falcone?”
Falcone’s mirth faded, and he considered the question seriously. “She’s prideful, and she takes big risks, but she’s not stupid. I told her many times that if I was free and still alive, I would destroy her. She knows I was sincere. Since she failed to kill me, she can’t tie herself to any asset I knew about. Bad news for her – I know just about all her assets, and I trust you Feds are doing a fine job with your small words and your big stick. If her empire is crumbling, she’s already out of town.”
“Out of town where? Back to Europe?”
“That would be admitting defeat. She might try again in the US: start from scratch with a nice senator or J. Edgar Hoover. But I doubt it. Not only have I taken her toys, I’m sharing her script. If you G-men have any brains, you’ll be watching for honchos acting bewitched. You caught her once. Even she won't gamble against you being smart twice.”
“So she’s not in United States?”
“My best guess? She went south. She and this Salazar hated each other. If you want to rest easy at night, just know that half of her time was wasted taking cheap shots at the guy. And he probably broke more of her plans than you ever did. My point is that she seemed to know what he was up to. Not usually enough to act on what she knew, which means I never got to see it. But if Salazar’s dead meat, his gang is sitting there without a head. I bet she wants to take over.
“Okay. Thank you, Mr. Falcone.”
Falcone scratched his chin. “Do I get my smokes now?”
Waller pressed the wall phone. “Let the man have his cigarettes.” She closed the blinds, turned to her guest, and spread her hands like a magician at the end of an act. “Go through any channel you want, Mr. Secretary. Talk to the military. The FBI. The State Department. Everything you heard here matches the facts. It’s a different interpretation of the facts, but it explains everything because it’s the truth. Thanks to some luck, we’ve knocked out half the German infiltrators in the Western Hemisphere and paralyzed the other half. If we push our advantage now, we can pick off the survivors, setting their subversive campaign back years, or we can hesitate and let them regroup, and they’ll back on our doorstep before Christmas.”
The man in the shadows with the imperial eyes folded his hands on his lap. “Suppose I confirm your fairy tale. We’re back to question number one: just what do you have in mind that you need my permission?”
“We paid no attention to Carlos Salazar until Falcone mentioned him. Now, thanks to my error, he’s dead. Which means we only have one good lead on Salazar’s network while its still vulnerable.”
“I’ve heard this one: your Captain Trevor. Under lock and key somewhere in chilly Patagonia.”
“So we believe. I tried to retrieve him with all the forces at my disposal. My team ran into a German unit with the same idea. We won that fight, but couldn’t get Trevor out.”
“How do you know Salazar’s network is still as paralyzed as you claim? Maybe one of their own has taken over, or maybe der Wehrwolf is already in charge.”
“Mr. Secretary, we don’t know. But considering the Germans themselves tried to grab Steve, they must believe that he knows something dangerous. However organized they are now, if we wait, it will only get worse.”
“So what are you asking for?”
“Last time, I sent ten men, that’s shooters and support staff combined. That wasn’t enough. I want numbers on my side, so they can fight through whatever bad luck pops up.”
“You want to invade Argentina?”
“I wouldn’t phrase it like that.”
“What exactly do you want?”
Waller composed herself to keep a straight face. “Two motorized companies and logistical support.”
“Unmarked uniforms. Foreign guns. They leave on their feet or in a body bag. They’ll look like locals. No ties to us.”
“I said no, Waller.”
“Two platoons. Para-dropped. Light infantry.”
“One platoon with air support.”
The man in the shadows rubbed his eyes. “You live and die on this one. You know that, right?”
“Submit a full plan for the joint chiefs tomorrow. And no promises on the air support.”
“Thank you Mr. Secretary.”
Back in the interrogation room.
Carmine Falcone took a long, triumphant drag on his cigarette. Lieutenant King Faraday enjoyed his own cigarette. The pair had spoken often enough to become something like colleagues. Faraday was Falcone’s only window to the outside world, and that was often the hook of their conversation.
Faraday blew a smoke ring. “I was wondering something, Mr. Falcone.”
Falcone arched an eyebrow. “Mm?”
“Your ‘witch’ controlled you for months. But you didn’t stop doing ‘business’. Did she let you steer that part of your life? Did she show any care for what you did? You’ve been silent on the matter. I know I’ve asked before.”
Falcone looked at the ceiling, and Faraday assumed he wouldn’t answer. But eventually he said, “Bring me newspapers with a headline for every arrest I give you. And tomorrow, bring me six cartons of these and a box of cigars. A nice cut. Something I would buy. And a bottle of amaretto.”
“You got it.”
Falcone nodded. “My associates and I bring value to the city. I keep things stable. That’s important with a war coming, don’t you think?”
“She had an eye to rock the boat, so you'd think she'd want to ruin me. Fortunately, the witch didn’t share my high opinion of myself. My day-to-day business was an afterthought to her. She let me do the, uh, what did you call it? Steering? It didn’t concern her much.” Falcone smoked for a minute. “But she didn’t ignore it completely. If she saw a way to cause some easy chaos without exposing me, which is to say, herself, too much, she would take it. You heard about that shootout with the Bertinellis and the cops? It was their own foolish fault, no question, but I helped escalate it. She wants blood in the streets. If I had been in control, it never would have gotten that far.”
“And the big agreement with the destroyers and Arturo Bertinelli. How does that play into her plans?”
Falcone shrugged. “It was an excuse to rat on Salazar, but she could have done that anytime. This was a roundabout way to get the destroyers built here where she could keep an eye on them. Maybe sabotage them later.”
“She could negotiate for the destroyers anytime.”
Falcone shook his head. “I never touched the weapons industry. Too many rules. Too many background checks. If I showed an interest out of nowhere, it would invite suspicions. Arturo was an excuse to get my foot in the door with an honest motive.”
“Honest? You mean conspiracy and greed.”
“Better than treason.”
“So your witch didn’t care about saving Arturo?”
“Are you kidding? She would have loved to keep him around. He’s toxic. Nothing but trouble. I convinced her that getting rid of him was a cost of doing the other business. Getting that numskull out of here is the safest thing for Gotham.” He took another drag. “Why do you ask?”
“You won. It’s all over the news. Arturo is being tried in a Canadian court.”
Falcone looked away but visibly relaxed. He started another cigarette. “Don’t forget the amaretto.”
Charlotte’s Grove Hospital. Gotham City.
Detective Harvey Bullock was lucid several hours a day when he chose to be. However, he was frequently in pain and allowed a generous prescription of morphine, which he took with gusto. Even when he was off the drug, the fractures to his ribs and jaw made talking difficult, and these were only beginning to mend. His official security detail was no longer round-the-clock, but Bullock’s team went out of their way to keep him company when they were off-duty. He knew they were stretched thin, so he told them they were all being dummies. But he was usually asleep, so they stayed regardless.
Harvey was asleep now, and his current visitor was Sergeant James Gordon. Bullock had been moved to a long-term recovery wing. He lived in a large hall with thirty other patients, separated only by a curtain. Gordon was missing dinner with his family to be at Bullock’s side. His replacement meal was a hot dog from a street cart and the applesauce from Bullock’s untouched lunch. As Gordon ate, there was a knock on the curtain. He recognized the knock.
“Come in, Lee.”
Doctor Leslie Thompkins was Bullock’s primary physician post-surgery. Gordon was around often enough that they had become familiar, as familiar as Gordon had time to be with anyone lately.
Doctor Thompkins stuck her head through the curtain. “Hope I’m not interrupting any deep conversation?”
Doctor Thompkins had a dark sense of humor, even by cop standards. Gordon played it off with an awkward smile. “You’re fine, Lee. I’m just enjoying dinner.” He looked at his plate. “Well, eating it anyway.”
She stepped inside. “Actually, Jim, I had some news to share.”
Gordon’s heart dropped. Doctor Thompkins seemed upbeat, but Gordon believed that when it came to hospitals, no news was good news. “What is it?”
“Jeez, I can hear your teeth grind from here. It’s not about Harvey.”
“Oh. Then what?”
“There’s a radio in the doctor’s lounge. Some district attorney just announced that Arturo Bertinelli has a court date set.”
“Oh. That’s nice. Took ’em long enough.” In their brief acquaintance, Doctor Thompkins had shown an insatiable interest in criminals and the justice system. “When is it scheduled?”
“Wrong question, Jim!”
“What do you mean?”
“Not when. Where.”
“In Canada, Jim! Bertinelli’s going have his court case in Canada.”
"Why on earth would they do that?”
She shrugged, smiling. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?”
He nodded, not smiling. “Yes, it is crazy.” He rubbed his mustache. “Would you excuse me, Lee? I have to make a phone call.”
She held open the curtain. “Sure. But it’s almost time to change this big guy’s dressings. You don’t want to miss the fun.”
Gordon found a pay phone in the lobby. He dialed an unlisted number. “We need to talk tonight. Yeah. Fine.”
Several hours later.
It was a typical dark alley. There was a time when Gordon used to obsess over their meetings, peering around every corner, watching his back. But he was long past caring about security. The fact was, Gordon was tired. He hadn’t slept enough in weeks. Something had to give, and soon. He hoped it wouldn’t be his mind.
Batman appeared from some shadow. The typical magic trick. They nodded.
“Bertinelli.” Gordon crossed his arms. “How’d that snake slither out of this?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, we can’t collect ammunition in the background any longer. A case like Arturo doesn’t come around every day. We have to make a play, and he’s our biggest piece. He won’t leave town for a few days. As long as he’s on American soil, we might be able to keep him.”
Batman said nothing.
Gordon cracked his knuckles. “I say we swing for the fences. We have your old files from the Fort. We have Arturo’s little diary of sins. We have the records from your Admiral. We know Walter Brown deals with the Families. Falcone’s not around to rescue anyone, so the bosses are as fractured as we could hope. Let’s play all our cards. Throw as much mud around as we can. Maybe we’ll take someone down, but at least we’ll get people talking.”
“I support that.”
“But I can’t be here to help.”
Gordon was so stunned, he didn’t lose his expression for several seconds. “Uh … Why?”
“Even if we get Arturo on the stand, we may not be able to turn him. I believe a bigger threat than losing him is the federal government’s ongoing use of the Families. If they feel their tool is in danger, the authorities may step in and challenge any legal attack we could mount. We do have some leverage against the government, you’re right, but I want more.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I just found another angle to work this case. It’s urgent, so I’ll be busy.”
“Fine, then I want in. What’s the angle?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
Gordon was tired, so he assumed he heard Batman incorrectly. “Excuse me?”
“I said you wouldn’t understand. It’s not a Gotham issue.”
“Fine. I met a woman who used to work with the military.”
“She’s a princess from a country that doesn’t exist. She can bench press a car.”
“She knows an Air Force officer who can testify to Operation Underworld, plus a long list of other illicit federal activities. An actual friendly witness would be a tremendous benefit. If we can’t put him on the stand, we can get him in front of reporters. His words would serve as living corroboration to the paper evidence we already have. That’s a powerful combination. Better yet, we hold him as a threat to turn the government against the Families. If we can finally bring in that sort of support, our jobs become twice as easy.”
“Yeah? What do you need to do to get this officer?”
“Rescue him from an Argentine prison. He might be dead.”
“… Well, you’re right. I don’t understand.”
“It’s not a choice I make lightly.”
“Can’t it wait a few days?”
Batman grimaced. His tone changed. Less front-line commander, more philosopher-king. ‘“I’ve been thinking about all the collusion we’ve discovered. The deeper we look, the more crimes we find with public officials responsible. You know I loathe the Families, but in the long-term, we need to prepare for cases with felons in even more dangerous positions of power. This is a rare opportunity to pursue that.”
“An opportunity that might be dead.”
“I made a promise. If I broke the promise and showed my face again, the princess would kill me.”
“You made a promise to me! We promised to clean up Gotham.”
“You’re the only one who might be able to discover why Arturo’s case is being heard in Canada before he’s gone. We both know there’s something seedy going on. We need to know who’s responsible so we can overturn it. That’s our real chance, ready here and now. Not some wild gamble.”
“I’ll be back to support you as soon as I can.”
“That’s it? You’re out of town for a little while?”
“You still have a good team, Sergeant Gordon. You’ll figure something out.”
“I guess we’ll see.”
Gordon cleaned his glasses on his shirt and walked away. “Me too.”
Batman let him have the last word and disappeared.
Hours later. The roof across from Gotham City’s Argentinian Consulate.
Wonder Woman sat on the cold roof tiles and slowly lost her patience. It had been nearly twenty minutes since she was left alone here. She was fed up with being left alone.
She jumped to her feet and spun. Batman stood behind her. He had no special tools or armor tonight, and wore a cape again. She didn’t know him very well, but she had the sense that this look was most appropriate.
“Finally. Are we finished here?”
“We just got started.”
She crossed her arms. “You said you were going to enter that embassy and learn what the Argentinians know.”
“I said I was going to prepare to enter that consulate so we might learn what the Argentinians have shared with their foreign staff.”
“The embassy is in Washington D.C.”
“Then we should be there.”
“It’s easier to outwit security in places I know. I know Gotham.”
“Fine. What did you prepare?”
“Security’s as tight I suspected, so I cleared them out with some drastic measures.”
"I released termites."
“Gotham City enforces strict pest prevention laws. Any sign of a termite infestation in a structure over four stories tall requires immediate evacuation.”
“No, what are termites?”
“Insects that eat wood. Given time, they can put a hole in a load-bearing wall.”
“Great Hera. These termites can cause a building to fall?”
“Eventually, and towers here tend to be in close proximity, so one collapse can cause several others. Worse, with the scarcity of real estate and lax building codes, popular buildings are expanded until they merge with older buildings beside or beneath them. These become load-bearing buildings, but with a load they weren’t designed to support and managers who don’t know how to maintain them.”
“The inhabitants see the termites and fear the worst.”
“If termites are seen, it’s assumed a major colony is hidden in an unused part of the structure, and the entire block could collapse any minute.”
“Cruel, uncompromising dominoes.”
“But, wait. Is it so dangerous? Many buildings here are of stone. Stone is strong, and you say termites eat wood.”
“Termites in Gotham get ambitious.”
“So you went inside and let these termites be found?”
“I entered an unused floor and cut open a water pipe. The flooding will soak down to active floors any minute now. The occupants will see the flooding, investigate, and find the termites inside the wall with the pipe. This way I could release them without being seen, and the termites will be found in something approaching a natural setting. No hint of foul play. That’s crucial.”
“What if they aren't found? The termites are now a danger.”
“I only released twenty. That’s not many.”
“But they could multiply.”
“I only brought males.”
She gave him a strange look. “How do you know?”
“Special order from a very obsessive entomologist.”
Wonder Woman’s lips turned up in a smile. “But you repeat yourself.”
“Oh. I guessed that an entomologist was a scholar of insects.”
“I have heard it is humorous here to criticize scholars of obscure subjects.”
“I never thought so.”
“To be candid, neither did I. But I hoped humor would help foster our cooperation.”
Batman stared at her. “Let’s wait. Silently.”
They did. Minutes later, they heard an alarm from the consulate, and a thin stream of people fled the exits. Even at night, the building was busy, but not any longer.
Batman stood from his crouch. “We’ll have at least an hour before the inspectors and exterminators arrive.”
Wonder Woman watched the fleeing crowd with sudden concern. “All of these people are innocents.”
“You interrupted their lives. You damaged their property.”
“Two hundred dollars in lost labor. Another thirty in repairs. The building management might be sued. Claims will cost insurance shareholders a few cents each.”
“You scared them.”
“And I scared them. I said it was a drastic measure.”
“It doesn’t distress you?”
“You want Trevor back? Then we’re on a deadline.” He climbed over the edge of the roof.
Wonder Woman said a silent prayer for both their souls and followed.